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SCA speaks on HK's political and economic developments in New Zealand

The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (August 29, New Zealand time) met the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, Margaret Wilson, and the Minister for Trade and Trade Negotiations, Phil Goff, during his official visit to New Zealand.

Mr Lam explained to them the latest political and economic developments in Hong Kong, emphasising that the Hong Kong SAR Government was committed to developing democracy in Hong Kong.

He said that the package proposed last year for the Chief Executive Election in 2007 and the Legislative Council (Legco) Election in 2008 would have incorporated all District Councillors into the Election Committee and increased the number of seats returned by direct and indirect elections to the Legco by 10.

"Although the package was supported by about 60% of the community, unfortunately, we missed the Basic Law's requirement of a two-thirds majority in the Legco by a slender margin," Mr Lam said.

"Nevertheless, our Government remains fully committed to the implementation of universal suffrage according to the Basic Law.

"The Commission on Strategic Development appointed by the Chief Executive last November has already started discussions on models for returning the Chief Executive by universal suffrage.

"Specific proposals for forming the nominating committee according to Article 45 of the Basic Law have been put forth by various parties.

"In September, the commission will proceed to consider different models for implementing universal suffrage for forming the Legco."

Mr Lam said the aim was to conclude discussions by early 2007 and to produce a report, which would be put to the Central Authorities in Beijing and would be made public in Hong Kong.

"We hope that this report will provide a basis for the third term Chief Executive to take forward constitutional development between 2007 and 2012," he said.

He also told the Speaker and the Minister that in the meantime, in order to widen the scope for political participation, the HKSAR Government had launched a public consultation exercise on extending the political appointment system.

In essence, this would involve creating two more layers of political appointments comprising Under Secretaries and Assistants to Bureau Secretaries. This would bring Hong Kong closer to advanced democracies where there were two or three layers of ministers who spoke for the government in parliament.

Concerning the new political appointees, Mr Lam said that they would be drawn from a variety of sources, including the civil service, political parties, academia, business and professional sectors.

"Our strategy is to open up both the positions of the executive government and the electoral system, so that both the software of political talent and election hardware can complement one another to enable Hong Kong's constitutional development to move forward," he said.

Mr Lam also said that Hong Kong's various systems, including its independent judicial system, had been maintained.

"In accordance with the Basic Law, the Court of Final Appeal may invite judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on the Court of Final Appeal.

"Senior judges from New Zealand participate in our Court of Final Appeal as Non-permanent Judges. This helps to maintain Hong Kong's links with the common law world and enhances the standing of our judicial system internationally," Mr Lam said.

In addressing the Asia New Zealand Foundation in Wellington, Mr Lam emphasised that under "One Country, Two Systems", Hong Kong benefited from having greater room for economic development than before re-unification.

"The Basic Law enables Hong Kong to remain as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). After China had gained accession to WTO, Hong Kong concluded the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Beijing in 2003," he said.

"Under this free trade agreement, Hong Kong's goods can enter the Mainland market duty-free. Hong Kong's service industries can develop in the Mainland market according to the terms under CEPA.

"This means that Hong Kong's service industries have the potential to serve not just the population of seven million people in Hong Kong but the market of 1.3 billion people in Mainland China."

"More specifically, since 2004 Hong Kong has extended regional co-operation beyond Guangdong to the Pan-Pearl River Delta Region. This regional co-operation framework agreement operates under CEPA and covers Hong Kong, Macau and nine provinces in southern and western China.

"This expands Hong Kong's hinterland beyond the 90 million people in Guangdong to a total of more than 470 million people in the entire Pan-Pearl River Delta region.

"Under the 11th Five-Year Plan adopted by Beijing in March, the Central Authorities have affirmed support for Hong Kong to maintain its status as an international hub on financial services, trade and shipping according to the Basic Law," Mr Lam said.

"To complement such developments, our Government is promoting with the Central Government and the provincial governments development of major infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. This project will open up Hong Kong's international airport and container port to the western side of Guangdong province and to other provinces in the Pan-Pearl River Delta."

Mr Lam said that the prospect for investment in Hong Kong and Mainland China were excellent. The Hong Kong economy had resumed growth. Unemployment had been reduced significantly to 4.9%. Forecast growth in Hong Kong was between 4% and 5% for 2006. The Mainland China economy is expected to grow by 7.5% per annum in the next five years.

"New Zealand companies can make use of the market opportunities to promote their export strength in areas such as dairy products and seafood," he said.

"Hong Kong has also been a significant market for New Zealand education. Bilateral tourism between Hong Kong and New Zealand has also demonstrated good prospect. We will continue to promote exchanges of the two places."

Mr Lam also called on the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand, Mr Zhang Yuanyuan this afternoon.

He will meet the Attorney-General, Dr Michael Cullen tomorrow (August 30) and end his four-day official visit to New Zealand on Thursday (August 31).

Ends/Tuesday, August 29, 2006